Last week, the Democrats held their 2016 national convention in Philadelphia — the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection — and formally nominated Hillary Clinton for president and Sen. Tim Kaine for vice president.
The Democratic National Convention followed the Republican National Convention, held the week before in Cleveland. Traditionally, the party that occupies the White House always goes second.
Florida’s 246 delegates headed to Philly knowing they would have a front row seat to watch history in the making — the nomination of the first woman presidential candidate from a major political party.
Hillary Clinton’s journey from her nomination to her acceptance speech was filled with surprises. So, too, were the four days that the delegates spent together.
Great Expectations: Met or not?
Florida delegates arrived in Philly fired up and ready to go, expecting their convention to:
- Underscore the importance of winning Florida in November. Florida! Florida! Florida! Met? Yes.
- Avoid any unpleasant surprises such as had occurred at the GOP convention. (Recall the Melania Trump speech plagiarism accusation and Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump.) Met? No.
- Unify the party; bring Bernie Sanders supporters into the fold, especially since Sanders himself was being given a prime time speaking spot and had already endorsed Hillary Clinton. Met? Not yet.
- Showcase the Democrat Party’s diversity (“race, creed, color, ethnicity, income level, education, faith, sexual orientation, gender identity”) and the campaign’s “Stronger Together” theme via media coverage of a diverse line-up of speakers. Met? Yes.
- Sharply contrast Clinton’s experience and temperament with that of Trump. Met? Yes.
- Energize delegates to go back home and work hard to elect Democrats all the way down the ballot. Met? Yes.
- Get a post-convention bounce in the polls erasing the bounce Trump got following the GOP convention. Met? Yes.
On a more personal level, several female delegates made it perfectly clear that what they wanted most out of the convention was to savor the moment when Hillary accepted the nomination. They had supported Hillary in 2008, cried when she lost, and vowed to work hard for her again in 2016. To them the shattering of the glass ceiling with a win by Hillary was a giant step toward getting more women elected to higher-level offices.
Once Again, Florida gets special treatment
While Democrats can win the presidency without winning Florida, they absolutely want to win Florida in 2016 for two big reasons: (1) Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat is seen as critical to Democrats taking back control of that chamber, and (2) to offset any possible Trump victories in Rust Belt states. No surprise then that Florida delegates got special treatment at the DNC:
- A great hotel location: The Downtown Marriott, also home to the California delegation.
- Appearances by the “A” list of national speakers at delegation breakfasts: Sen./ VP nominee Tim Kaine, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congress members Nancy Pelosi, Rosa DeLauro, Luis Gutierrez, Joaquin Castro, Barbara Lee, Joe Kennedy III, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA), former Gov. Howard Dean, and former U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, to name a few.
- Great seats on the convention floor: Besides having great seats, Florida delegates were in a prime location for TV cameras to catch shots of them dancing and engaging in hoopla. Florida delegates rocked!
- Bringing party icons to the stage: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton. Each of them generated long, loud cheers and helped rally strong support among delegates who do not want to lose the White House.
- Entertainment with an edge: Clever vignettes were flashed on the screen during down times, made up of “Trumpisms” (his words) and “A Message From Your Possible Next President” spoofs. They drew lots of laughs and sharpened the contrast between The Donald and Hillary.
- Speakers with targeted messages: Among the more memorable speeches were those by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who appealed to independent voters to support Clinton; Khizr Kahn, the father of an American Muslim soldier killed in Iraq in 2004 who made the point that not all Muslims are terrorists; and pleas for gun control by Gabby Giffords and Mothers of the Movement (African-American women whose children were killed by gun violence).
- Chelsea Clinton’s introduction of Hillary: The warm emotional embrace between mother and daughter brought tears to many eyes.
- Hillary’s acceptance speech: It was not as much the content of her speech as it was the context. So many supporters had waited a lifetime to see the gender barrier broken.
- The balloon drop: Isn’t it always the best?
- A lousy way to start a convention was the WikiLeak release of Democratic National Committee emails showing the party had played favorites in the primary by promoting Hillary over Bernie. It incensed the large Sanders delegation, and energized his supporters both inside and outside the convention arena. It resulted in the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Her appearance at the kickoff Florida delegation breakfast drew loud boos from Bernie supporters and nonstop negative national media coverage.
- Continued disruptions on the convention floor by Sanders delegates, especially when subjects of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or military engagement were raised, but even in the middle of Hillary’s history-making acceptance speech. Hillary supporters complained that Sanders supporters were disrespectful, sore losers. Bernie supporters were themselves divided. Some blamed him for “selling out” when he called for Hillary’s nomination by acclamation. Others let it be known it was ridiculous to expect them to immediately jump onto the Hillary bandwagon. After all, for months they had put all their energy into the Sanders campaign, which had to them become a movement — not just support for an individual. The delegates left Philly with plenty of “Bernie or Bust” and “Never Hillary” sentiment still out there.
Celebrities, not swag
Florida Republicans went home from their convention with swag. Florida Democrats left Philly with photos and memories of “mingling” with stars from the entertainment and sports worlds, each chosen to connect with a specific generation. From the entertainment world: Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Angela Bassett, Sarah Silverman, Lena Dunham, Elizabeth Banks, Eva Longoria, Chloe Grace Moretz, Star Jones, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Paul Simon. From the sports world: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Florida delegates headed back from the convention knowing they’ll need to work hard in what is likely to be another fiercely fought election in the Sunshine State, and in the nation.
By Susan A. MacManus
Dr. Susan A. MacManus is a resident of Land O’ Lakes. She a political scientist at the University of South Florida and was a political analyst for ABC Action News at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Published August 3, 2016